“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is undoubtedly, Victor Hugo’s finest and most famous work. It has been adapted to cinema on numerous occasions, including movies, television shows and animated features. The story takes place in the opulent Notre Dame Cathedral, which is managed by Archdeacon Claude Frollo. Many years earlier, Frollo adopted an abandoned child, a grossly deformed Quasimodo. Quasimodo spent his life in the Cathedral performing menial tasks, including ringing the church bells. Other main characters include La Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy dancer; Sister Gudule, a recluse whose baby daughter was kidnapped 15 years earlier; Phoebus de Chateaupers, captain of a company of archers and Pierre Gringoire, a struggling poet.
The story begins during the 1482 Festival of Fools. Quasimodo, because of his deformities, is being mocked and is elected as “Pope of Fools”. Archdeacon Frollo arrives and puts an end to the distasteful ceremony. Quasimodo is sent back to his home in the Cathedral. It is at this point that both Frollo and Quasimodo notice the beautiful 16 year old La Esmeralda. Both become infatuated with La Esmeralda and Archdeacon Frollo orders Quasimodo to help him kidnap her. In the attempt, Gringoire is injured and Quasimodo is captured by Phoebus’ guards. Frollo escapes, but Quasimodo is put on trial and is tortured as punishment.
Some time later, Frollo observes La Esmeralda and Phoebus together and he becomes insanely jealous. In a fit of anger, Frollo kills Phoebus and escapes. La Esmeralda is blamed and is forced to confess to the murder of Phoebus. She also confesses to being a witch. On her way to execution, she is saved by Quasimodo, who takes her to the Cathedral for safety. In the Cathedral, she cannot be arrested because the laws of Sanctuary prevent any arrest on Church property. On orders from Frollo, the Cathedral is attacked by a group of criminals who attempt to take La Esmeralda. Quasimodo fiercely defends her and he kills several of the attackers.
Under the cover of the attack, Frollo takes La Esmeralda away from the Cathedral where he offers to save her from arrest if she would only marry him. She refuses and chooses execution instead. After the death of La Esmeralda, Quasimodo seeks revenge and throws Frollo off the top of the Cathedral. Quasimodo, who was never seen again, left the Cathedral and found the body of La Esmeralda. He laid down next to her and slowly died of sadness and starvation. His body was found several years later.
This work reflects Victor Hugo’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church. The Church is represented by Archdeacon Frollo who is depicted very negatively in this book. He commits murder, ignores the celibacy rules of the Church and performs experiments in black magic. He is also indirectly responsible for the death of La Esmeralda by allowing her execution on false charges.
There have been numerous cinema adaptations of this story however, most depictions do not have the same grisly ending. Most movies have a much happier ending where La Esmeralda is saved by Quasimodo and both survive. This story has become one of the finest pieces in literary history.